My husband, Barry, and I love to travel and get away as much as possible these days, often keeping an eye on the deals that come up and taking advantage of the best offers as and when they are available. We’ve travelled with Exoticca once before to Peru, and as we had such a great time in South America we saw their Vietnam tour at a fabulous price and couldn’t resist, so we took the plunge and booked up! I was pleased we did as the trip exceeded all of our expectations! Having thought that these kinds of trips to far-flung destinations might be out of our price range we were pleased that Exoticca had opened up this part of the world to us. We always aim to visit places where the culture is different from our own so heading East really appealed to us and although we don’t love the long flights, we were both keen to experience this part of the world. We always choose holidays and tours with an active element to them. For us, we are probably only going to visit a country once, as there are always new destinations we want to visit, so we aim to pack as much into our holidays as possible and a guided tour is usually the best way to do this!
After the long flight, we were excited to get going and explore Vietnam. Arriving in Hanoi we were instantly aware that we had stepped into a different culture and way of life. Once we had settled into the hotel we popped out to explore the local area but it was like being in a different world! The traffic was unrelenting and motorbikes, piled up with people and shopping whizzed by in every direction; you could hardly walk down the street! It was amazing to see. When we met our guide the next day he gave us some handy tips for crossing the roads in these bustling Vietnamese cities which helped us to get out and explore further. Throughout our trip, the locals were always so friendly and nice and we really enjoyed immersing ourselves into the culture, by eating in the local restaurants, enjoying a cheap beer in the lantern-lit late bars and exploring the little-seen parts of town. The architecture, in the Buddhist temples and the traditional buildings, really amazed us. I had never seen these kinds of buildings before, having not been to this part of the world and it’s not until you’re there that you can really appreciate the beauty of it all. Vietnamese weather at that time of year is very hot and humid, which we didn’t mind as we came prepared, but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re packing.
Valerie at Ha Long Bay
Our tour took us from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh, giving us a great overview of the different parts of this vast country. I cannot fault the organisation of the tour at all! The guides were some of the most knowledgeable, helpful and friendly guides we have ever had, and they were really flexible and accommodating. Although we were full of energy and partook in all elements of the tour, other group members were grateful for the flexibility of the itinerary which allowed them extra time to relax at their leisure if they wanted to. We had three or four guides throughout the whole journey, meaning we got to know each one well and they were great at giving us all the local information as well as telling us interesting curiosities about each place we visited. There were 36 people in total in our group, so it was a nice mix of people and we ended up chatting with everyone over the course of the tour. We were always well informed about pick-up times and tour information so we could just sit back and enjoy our holiday.
In each destination, the hotels were of a good standard and often very modern. One of our favourites was the first hotel in Hanoi which was beautifully designed in a colonial style with a wooden interior and traditional furnishings. We also ate really well throughout our trip, with our included breakfasts and then throwing ourselves into the local food as well, which was so varied we hardly ever ate the same thing twice! I always like to eat like the locals when I’m away as it’s a good way to get to know the culture and I love eastern cuisine so the food in Vietnam was perfect for me! In the evenings the bars and restaurants were filled with locals, getting outside in the cooler night-time hours and we loved the atmosphere as the streets were illuminated with lanterns and filled the chatter of friends and families.
One of the highlights of our trip has to be the Ha Long Bay cruise. The traditional ship was stunning, let alone the landscapes of Ha Long Bay itself! We stayed overnight on the ship, which served delicious food and the whole atmosphere of the day was so peaceful and relaxing, I would have happily stayed another night on the bay. In the evening we took part in a kayaking excursion which took us around the bay and into numerous hidden caves and rocky outlets. The caves were magical, although a strange thing happened in one of the caves; my camera completely stopped working the moment we entered the cave and, at the time, I couldn’t take any photos. Once we came out into the open again the camera came back to life, which was spooky in itself, but since coming home and loading my holiday photos onto the computer there are photos from inside the cave with magical orange streaks of light across them. A very strange phenomenon, possibly from the change in temperature or a magnetic field inside the cave, or perhaps due to something supernatural and unexplainable! Nevertheless, our time spent on Ha Long Bay will be remembered as a special experience.
Barry in Hoi An
As we continued the tour on land, we loved seeing the changing countryside and the contrast between the lively bustling cities and the charming villages and towns. You realise just how vast the country is when you are travelling between regions, although the travel was always comfortable and the internal flights ran smoothly. Hoi An, with its magnificent Japanese Bridge and the village-like atmosphere, was a real gem and we enjoyed a fascinating walking tour around the town. We had some of our best, most authentic meals in Hoi An and the city has lots of nice bars and a cosy ambience. We picked up lots of good quality souvenirs and knick-knacks here, from local artisans and sellers. In contrast, Ho Chi Minh was a busy metropolis and a delight for history lovers due to the many historical sites and the significance of Saigon in the Vietnam War. We learnt so much on our tours and it really opened our eyes to some of the little-known events that took place in the country, especially when we visited sites such as the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the final resting place of the famous Vietnamese revolutionary.
To top off our wonderful time in Vietnam, one of the final days included an action-packed excursion to the Mekong Delta, which turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our trip. We loved every part of it, taking three different boats around different areas on the glistening river, including a tiny boat which we had to lower the roof to pass under a bridge! We visited local villages, ate fresh fruit on the banks of the mighty Mekong and also enjoyed an amazing and immaculately presented lunchtime meal in a remote part of the Delta. It was great to see this little-known part of the world and to watch the daily goings-on of the communities that live and work on the river. It was a special day, full of adventure and fun.
Our time in Vietnam was a great introduction to far-eastern travel, a captivating look into the culture of the country and a delightful feast for the senses which has only served to encourage me and my husband to travel and discover even more of this diverse world!
Barry in Hue